City Research & Enterprise Review 2011
  1. Health & Wellbeing
  2. Cultural Heritage
  3. Processes & Systems Improvement
  4. Government & Society at Large
  5. Effective Use of Energy
  1. Unsettling times ahead
City Research & Enterprise Review 2011

Unsettling times ahead - Global environmental migration

Governments of many developing countries are devising extended programmes to combat the impact of climate change; however, some of the proposed measures are a cause of great concern as they have the potential to create climate refugees.


It is currently estimated that in the region of 40 million people are displaced and resettled annually as a result of international or localised conflict, land acquisition to make way for large infrastructure projects such as dams or roads, or following natural disasters. In addition, it is envisaged that anthropogenic global warming through sea level rise and more erratic weather will create new flows of so-called 'climate refugees'. In response to the challenge of climate change, developing countries' governments are evolving adaptation and mitigation programmes, but these are likely to have a significant impact on society, including population displacement and resettlement.

Dr Christopher McDowell, Head of City's Department of International Politics (pictured), is a political anthropologist and an international expert on the displacement and resettlement of populations in the developing world. He regularly advises governments, non-governmental organisations and international bodies such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank.

His recent study into global environmental migration for the Foresight Programme formed part of the research into Global Environmental Management, a programme that considers policy challenges that may confront the UK in 30 and 60 years' time.

Dr McDowell's research examined the likely social impact of actions undertaken by developing countries' governments to mitigate against the impacts of climate change.

The study cautions that some adaptation and mitigation measures - afforestation and re-afforestation, increased use of hydropower and the construction of sea defences - will require land use change and thus increase the numbers of people displaced.

Furthermore, these significant changes often take place in a legal context in which the rights of resettlers are poorly protected and resettlement operations are equally badly planned and managed. Drawing on his experience of evaluating resettlement operations, Dr McDowell believes that people are likely to be further impoverished and politically marginalised as a result of their displacement. At the same time, the robustness of current governance arrangements to manage the resettlement will be put to the test.

Despite the seemingly bleak outlook, Dr McDowell remains hopeful that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process and up to $100 billion of new money being made available for climate change related development present opportunities for improving national and international management of land acquisition and resettlement, and may lead governments to agree a new regulatory framework that enhances protection for everyone who is involuntarily resettled.

More research outcomes from City University London.